There were plenty of bad songs in 2015, so a “Top 10” list would be easy enough to compile. However, it seems that there is something far more evil lurking just below the surface. This year didn’t produce any abominations on the level of “Accidental Racist” or “Anaconda”, but there was definitely a subtle sense that something was very, very wrong.
Instead, what seemed to emerge was a set of trends that spread like a top-secret strain of ebola, poisoning us at a cellular level. Any review of the musical landscape in 2015 must include an exploration of the trends that made “Marvin Gaye” possible.
Of course, there were some pretty awful individual efforts this year, such as Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance”, which sounds like a U2 B-side. Most of the songs like this, however, didn’t come as surprises. You don’t even have to hear Owl City and Hanson’s “Unbelievable” to know it was going to be dumb. Your grandmother could see that coming. The travesty of Fall Out Boy’s “Uma Thurman” isn’t shocking – the song is precisely as bad as you’d expect.
Certainly there are some that rise above in their unique horribleness. One has to mention “Dooo It!”, Miley Cyrus’ last-ditch effort to gross herself out. It’s cute (at best) to hear her talk about smoking pot, which isn’t even illegal in certain places anymore. If that was the only silliness involved, we could cut her some slack, but it’s the complete absence of singing that makes her seem burned out. Probably one of 2015’s lowest points is “Movin’ Up”, the depressingly desperate attention-grab by Alana Thompson, AKA Honey Boo-Boo (or, to be more precise, by Honey Boo-Boo’s mom). Yet, even this isn’t as fundamentally evil as the pervasive bad practices that modern musicians are just accepting as the norm these days.
Overall, the worst things about this year’s music have been spread out in various directions, making it hard to isolate specific offenders. Therefore it is worthwhile to focus on the trends that are ruining music so we can start the new year clean and promise to never, ever do them again. These were the five worst musical trends in 2015.
Rap Without Rap:
Fetty Wap is just one example of the kind of dumb, rambling, rap-less rappers that have gained popularity recently, and “679” is just as bad as the rest. He often sounds like he has a mouth full of marshmallows, especially when he tries to rhyme “Rari” with “Rari” (because “Ferrari” is just one syllable too many). In case you’re willing to let this go as an outlier, take a listen to “My Way”, which is Biz Markee without the sense of irony. At least he’s trying, which is more than can be said for Soulja Boy, whose “Hurricane” is basically three words: “whip (x45) / diamonds / hurricane.” Repetition is fine if the music is good, but many of these songs seem to believe that you will like something if it is just repeated often enough. Travis Scott’s “Antidote” is a fine example of running the lines over and over again, until they enter a swirling vortex of sleepy nonsense!
Unfortunately, these aren’t just a few pitiful exceptions. For all the great dance videos Beyonce has had, “7/11” looks like a collection of rejected outtakes. There is a lyric video for this song, which is pointless because there are no lyrics. In the realm of hip-hop dance videos, Silento stands out this year with the silly “Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae).” It is incredibly stupid, but so was “U Can’t Touch This” and “The Humpty Dance”. Somehow Silento’s take is worse because neither of those tried so hard to force a trend. This misplaced effort to take itself seriously ends up having roughly the gravitas of a dance like “The Carlton.” The greater failure is “Hit the Quan” by iLoveMemphis, which is what happens when a bunch of upper middle class suburban rich kids get funding for a rap album.
This new generation of lazy rap via repetition is a sad chapter in the genre that gave us NWA and WuTang. Nothing seems to happen in any of these songs and they express a worldview that could be achieved by still living at home with Mom. “Lazy” rhymes with “lazy” and that’s most of what we’re getting now.
Contemporary country music seems bent on being anything but. While artists like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line have spent the past few years plundering rap music, the next move seems to be to steal from something even more incompatible – the overly-sentimental drivel that is Emo. “Run Away With You” by Big & Rich could be a Jimmy Eat World cover. They’ve replaced girls and trucks with moonlight rides and dorky romance. Chris Young’s “Think of You” is like Dashboard Confessional sung with a mouthful of Skoal.
Without being quite as obviously derivative, Jason Aldean, who has made a career of cliché, threw out “Gonna Know We Were Here”, a song that basically plays on the dreams of every high school jock that high school football will matter in the future. Spoiler alert: it will not. Perhaps the most nauseatingly sappy of these is Kid Rock’s ‘take-me-seriously’ ballad “First Kiss”, an attempt to revitalize the summer of ‘69 that really just makes us wish he’d just go back to guzzling High Life and manicuring his wispy goatee.
Sassy < Crazy:
Now that positive-body-image advocate Meghan Trainor has lost a bunch of weight, it seems that she has gone from sassy role model to irrationally demanding sociopath with “Dear Future Husband.” It’s worthwhile to note that the only thing she doesn’t demand from her future spineless prat is that he listen to her music. Next in line on the highly suspicious sassy-empowerment-ballad list is “Pretty Girls” by the ‘remember when I shaved my head?’ Britney Spears and the contractually obligated Iggy Azalea. “… Baby One More Time” was a hit eight years ago and things have been increasingly psychotic ever since. She is worn out and this seems like a pitiful grab for attention, kind of like your stepmom going back to college. Stop raising your hand, Britney.
A few steps past this brings us to “worst of” alum Nicki Minaj, who once again is (sort of) trying to bail out Madonna’s career with “B*tch, I’m Madonna.” Madonna is the original shock-trendsetter, but she appears to be unraveling here, and dubstep is not doing her any favors. The sadness of her vocals makes us wonder how many times the songwriters had to explain the lyrics to her. Although the song was clearly written for someone else, Nicki Minaj’s almost unintelligible contribution makes it commercially viable for almost any artist desperate enough to hitch their wagon to her star. There is a level of invented street slang Minaj has adopted that is no longer intelligible to the human mind without the aid of bath salts. Finally, diving right off the end, is Rihanna with “B*tch Better Have My Money”, which is basically the anthem for all those angry tin can-collecting bag ladies who haunt Walmart storefronts. They are all mumbling, “b*tch better have my money.”
Nursing Home Soundtracks:
There was a lot of painfully boring music this year. For example, “I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor, shows that without the bubbly quips and 12-year-old girl logic, she really has nothing to offer. Her co-conspirator on the abominably bad “Marvin Gaye” is the equally vacuous Charlie Puth. Puth’s attempt at seriousness is more or less coma muzak. “One Call Away” is a dork ballad, and his claim that “Superman got nothin’ on me” is undercut by the premise of the song – if you jump in after the other guy drops the ball, you may get to be the meaningless rebound (which in Puth’s case would be a step up). Gwen Stefani added to the snooze-a-thon with “Used to Love You”, a feeble attempt at an unconvincing Miley Cyrus impersonation in which literally nothing happens for nearly four minutes. Try to hold your breath for four minutes. It’s an eternity.
Nicki Minaj has been the queen of mindless cameos for the past several years, but in 2015 she only had seven guest vocal credits. Normally that’s a large enough number, considering that there surely can’t be much more to scrape out of the bottom of that barrel. However, by comparison, Chris Brown had a whopping 23. In case you need a reminder – and apparently he has millions of fans that do – this is a guy who punched his girlfriend in the face over 20 times. Anything he has to share lyrically is only slightly less inappropriate than 1971’s “Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs.” The sheer fact that this guy still has a music career is a sad commentary on what we will tolerate as a society. Apparently Michael Vick could write a song called “Dog Trainer” without any trouble.
Perhaps the worst of his contributions this year is “Only”, a sort of swingers party between Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil’ Wayne, and a psycho-eyed Chris Brown. Besides being filmed in Christian Grey’s basement, this droning, hookless, demon hymn is frenetically dull. Of course, a song about hooking up with Nicki Minaj is destined to be creepy, disturbing, and self-loathing. As if there were any question about Brown’s solo exploits, “Back to Sleep” (specifically, “let me f— you back to sleep, girl”) is further evidence of Brown’s proclivity for situations where consent is questionable at best.
So what do we have to look forward to in 2016? Food Network star Guy Fieri is working on an album. Not really, but what if?
Title Image by Jon Karr
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